More than 60 Jewish children who were rescued from Arab villages attended special camps run by Yad L'Achim this summer in a large, picturesque facility in the northern part of the country.
The camp grounds included lush, green areas, swimming pools, playgrounds, trampolines and barbecue pits for two separate camps, one for the boys and one for the girls.
The camp experience is critical in the development of these children, sons and daughters of Jewish women and Arab men, in making them feel part of the Jewish people. It provides them with a feeling of family and belonging that is so missing in their lives.
One of the campers, 16-year-old Yosef, was rescued from Ramallah just two and a half weeks ago, as Yusuf, together with his mother and sister. At camp, he was given the opportunity to put on tefillin for the first time, as staffers and campers joined him in celebrating a heart-warming bar mitzvah.
Yad L'Achim notes with pride that nine of the campers were rescued in the past decade from Gaza and are today learning in Torah schools.
During their days in camp, the children enjoyed hikes along the rivers of the north, bicycle rides and visits to parks and petting zoos. One evening, when the boys were participating in a workshop on musical instruments, the girls were given a chance to take challah in a program led by the singer Tzipora Ivgi. The event became a bas mitzvah celebration for three girls who recently turned 12, as they accepted upon themselves ol malchus Shamayim.
Rabbi Victor Atiya gave the children a special workshop that included magic, telepathy and personal stories.
At the end of the camp session, during which they bonded with Yad L'Achim staffers and with Judaism, the children had a hard time saying goodbye. One by one, they approached their counselors and with voices choked with emotion expressed gratitude for days they would never forget, days that charged their batteries for the entire year.
Rabbi Moshe Cohen, who labored tirelessly to organize the camp, said: "Despite the doubts and natural concerns that a lot of the children felt at first, they all left with big smiles on their faces, thanks to the efforts of our staff. The children know that they have a warm, supportive, loving family. They know that they are part of the Yad L'Achim family that will always be there for them."
Mrs. Suri Kosteliz, from Yad L'Achim's counter-assimilation department, said: "Besides the strength that these camps gave the children, they also gave strength and breathing space to their heroic mothers, as they cope with their not-so-simple day-to-day existence."